Revamped Bills believe doormat days are over

Buddy Nix isn’t afraid of the New England Patriots, and the

Buffalo Bills general manager gets a big chuckle out of how the

statement he’s made several times this offseason can create such an

eyebrow-raising stir.

Then again, Nix doesn’t see a need to take back what he’s said

in what can be interpreted as yet another sign of how the

expectations have changed on a team eager to shed its longtime

reputation of being the AFC East’s doormats and, more specifically,

the Patriots’ patsies.

”Listen, I want you to write this,” Nix said. ”The Patriots

are where we want to be. If we’re going to win the division, we’ve

got to beat them. Then our next step is we want to be the favorite

every year, just like they are.

”And if we’re scared of them, we got no chance of doing

that.”

Believing – or Bill-ieving as it’s phrased in Buffalo – they’re

pushovers no longer, the Bills have assumed a sort of swagger in

preparing to open the season on Sept. 9 against the New York

Jets.

”It’s got to be go time,” receiver Stevie Johnson said.

”Playoffs, I don’t want to be the guy who says, `Playoffs or

bust,’ but you get the sense. I’m confident in my team. I don’t

want to speak too soon, but I think we’ve got the talent to make

big steps this year.”

The raised expectations are new to a once-proud franchise that’s

barely made a peep during a 12-season run of missing the playoffs –

the NFL’s longest active drought. It’s a stretch in which Buffalo’s

enjoyed one winning season (9-7 in 2004) and gone 10-22 in two

years under Nix and coach Chan Gailey.

After spending the past two seasons methodically and gradually

rebuilding the roster from scratch, Nix upped the ante

significantly this offseason by making a big splash.

After surprising many around the NFL by first luring defensive

end Mario Williams to visit Buffalo hours after the free-agency

period opened in mid-March, the Bills then delivered by signing the

two-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher to a six-year, $100 million contract,

the richest deal ever awarded a defensive player.

The Bills weren’t done yet in their bid to revamp an anemic pass

rush, by signing defensive end Mark Anderson a week later.

These were uncharacteristically aggressive moves made by a

small-market franchise that had been previously regarded as too

cheap and/or too inept to attract star players in the primes of

their careers.

And Nix understood the consequences had the Bills failed to land

Williams.

”Once we got him here, had we not signed him, it would’ve done

more damage than you could imagine,” Nix said. ”Yep, same old

crap.”

Instead, it has the potential to be a new beginning.

With 88 1/2 combined career sacks, Williams and Anderson give

the Bills a bookend pass-rushing duo they’ve lacked, particularly

against the pass-happy Tom Brady-led Patriots, who have burned them

far too often over the past decade. And they help transform what

had been a patchwork defensive line into a potential powerhouse

that’s anchored by tackles Kyle Williams, who’s healthy after

having season-ending foot surgery, and Marcell Dareus, who is

coming off a promising rookie season.

Add in the selection of first-round draft pick, cornerback

Stephon Gilmore, and the Bills defense has the potential to be

vastly improved over the porous unit that allowed a franchise-worst

5,938 yards last season.

The Bills offense returns mostly intact after showing flashes of

potential in finishing 14th in the NFL in yards gained – it’s best

finish since 2002. The question is whether returning starter Ryan

Fitzpatrick can become more consistent after he and the rest of the

offense unraveled down the stretch.

Questions remain regarding depth at several positions, including

backup quarterback, where the Bills gave up on Vince Young and

acquired Tarvaris Jackson in a trade with Seattle this week.

Concerns have also been raised over how inconsistent the Bills have

looked in opening the preseason with three straight losses.

”I think we’re headed in the right direction, I’ve got no

doubts about that,” said Nix. ”I’m very confident we’re on the

right track.”

Nix has never been afraid to speak his mind.

In first introducing himself to Bills season-ticket holders, Nix

quickly won them over with a colorfully turned statement about how

he shared their impatience and frustrations. ”Don’t tell me about

the labor pains, just show me the baby,” he had said.

”Well, we’ve had the labor pains,” Nix said, reflecting on how

the past two seasons have gone. In 2010, Buffalo opened losing

eight straight. Last year, the Bills got off to a 5-2 start before

losing eight of their last nine.

Now, it’s time to start producing.

”We expect to be competitive and a factor throughout the

year,” Nix said. ”We expect to be good.”

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